Recently studied about the urdubegis so thought I'd share something about them here. Thread ahead. #MughalHistory #SouthAsia
The urdubegis were armed women who were tasked with guarding the Mughal zenana & the emperor. They were a part of the complex character & administration of the zenana; often erased in orientalist, erotic depictions of the harem as a sexual playground for the Mughal emperor.
Bibi Fatima is reported to be the chief among the urdubegis in the time of Humayun. She held various roles, including being a wet-nurse, being entrusted with diplomacy, and being very close to the imperial family itself.
The urdubegis were mostly drawn from Tartars, Kashmiris, and Ethiopians. They were “accomplished at handling weapons, physically strong, & alert"-- a fact prominent in a reported plot that was made for luring Aurganzeb to the Agra Fort & having him killed by Tartar female slaves.
The tradition of female guards for the zenana was also inevitably transformed during India’s encounter with the East India Company. This led to their transformation along European lines as female sepoys, as the case with the Nizam of Hyderabad’s corps of female sepoys evidences:
The institution is debated to stretch back to the third century; to the “armed women whom Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador, observed accompanying Chandragupta Maurya on his hunting expedition and who, according to Kautilya, guarded the Mauryan emperor’s bedchamber.”
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